1819 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Charles Cotton

Thomas Campbell, in Specimens of the British Poets (1819; 1845) 291-92.



There is a careless and happy humour in this poet's Voyage to Ireland, which seems to anticipate the manner of Anstey, in the Bath Guide. The tasteless indelicacy of his parody of the Aeneid has found but too many admirers. His imitations of Lucian betray the grossest misconception of humorous effect when he attempts to burlesque that which is ludicrous already. He was acquainted with French and Italians; and, among several works from the former language, translated The Horace of Corneille, and Montaigne's Essays.

The father of Cotton is described by Lord Clarendon as an accomplished and honourable man, who was driven by domestic afflictions to habits which rendered his age less reverenced than his youth, and made his best friends wish that he had not lived so long. From him our poet inherited an encumbered estate, with a disposition to extravagance little calculated to improve it. After having studied at Cambridge, and returned from his travels abroad, he married the daughter of Sir Thomas Owthorp, in Nottinghamshire. He went to Ireland as a captain in the army, but of his military progress nothing is recorded. Having embraced the soldier's life merely as a shift in distress, he was not likely to pursue it with much ambition. It was probably in Ireland that he met with his second wife, Mary Countess Dowager of Ardglass, the widow of Lord Cornwall. She had a jointure of 1500 a year, secured from his imprudent management. He died insolvent at Westminster. One of his favourite recreations was angling; and his house, which was situated on the Dove, a fine trout stream which divides the counties of Derby and Stafford, was the frequent resort of his friend Izaak Walton. There he built a fishing-house, "Piscatoribus sacrum," with the initials of honest Izaak's name and his own united in ciphers over the door. The walls were painted with fishing scenes, and the portraits of Cotton and Walton were upon the beaufet.